Choosing the best golf GPS watch is not an easy task, as all models have both pros and cons to consider.
GPS giant Garmin has cornered the market with its popular Approach series. Not to be outdone though, optics experts Bushnell has weighed in with at least one compelling offering as well that is selling like a champ and getting a lot of love from its users. Let’s see what they have to offer.
Roundup of the Best GPS Watches for Golfers
Currently there is no perfect golf GPS watch. Any of the 4 models here have enough strengths to give you just the essential data you need on the golf course, despite a few shortcomings. We’ll run through them from the cheapest to the most expensive.
Garmin Approach S2
This is the 2013 addition to Garmin’s popular golf GPS watch range, offering higher capacity and more features than the now discontinued S1 model.
– Preloaded worldwide courses
– 30,000 courses preloaded, unlimited course capacity
– Precise yardages to front, back and middle of green
– Layup and dogleg distances
– Measures individual shot distances
– Digital scorecard
– Computer scorecard review
– Course odometer
The S2 is a very good GPS watch. Quick, accurate and covers unlimited golf courses worldwide.
It was a considerable improvement over the old S1, offering extra course capacity, layup and dogleg distances and a digital scorecard that is downloadable to your computer for proper review.
The extra data is helpful and worth having. The S2 could also have done with a dedicated score card button, as well as a back button to speed up its use. Right now quite a bit of button pushing is required to navigate the device.
Users like: display, comfort, accuracy, speed, scorecard, free updates, layup guides
Users don’t like: price, battery life, amount of button presses
Three years on, the S2 still offers fine performance and is perfectly usable. I’m not sure how much longer it will be before it gets discontinued like the S1 though. If you don’t like touchscreen models or the bells and whistles and extras of more advanced models, the S2 still offers great value.
Price Range: $130 – $160Get Garmin Approach S2 Pricing on Amazon
Bushnell Neo Ion GPS Golf Watch
Famous for its excellent laser rangefinders, Bushnell has firmly established themselves in the GPS watch market with the Neo range, the Neo Ion being one of the latest models.
– Pre-loaded with 35,000+ courses
– Fixed front, back and middle of the green distances
– Auto course/hole recognition and advance
– Up to 4 hazard/layup distances per hole
– Long battery life
– Integrated step counter
– USB charging/sync cable
– Measure shot distances
The Neo Ion is very easy to use. It also features a longer battery life than the Garmin models, and you should just be able to squeeze out three to four rounds of golf on one charge (where you’ll struggle to finish two with the Garmins).
The display is easy to read, but green distances are fixed front, middle and back points instead of near, middle and far readings relative to the player’s position.
Some nifty auto functions like auto off (to turn off the GPS unit automatically after a set time) and Teetime (which you can program days in advance and switches on the unit just before you start your round) shows that Bushnell put some thought into this unit.
The hazard distances are nice, although the watch only displays 4 hazards. Better than nothing, but on hazard ridden holes you may miss a few. The auto hole advance works well too.
The Neo Ion lacks scoring and many of the gimmicks of more advanced GPS watches (like the notification pairing with smartphones on the latest Garmins or a green view for dynamically moving the pin), but it provides the essentials you need on the golf course.
Users like: battery life, shot distance calculator, look and feel, hazard distances, auto hole advance
Users don’t like: limited hazards, fixed green distances
Packed with the features you really need and solid performance combined with excellent battery life, makes the Neo Ion a fine entry level golf GPS watch. If you don’t need the bells and whistles of a Garmin S6, this is a great buy.
Price Range: $180 – $200Get Bushnell Neo Ion Pricing on Amazon
Garmin Approach S4
The Approach S4 is Garmin’s replacement for the previous S3 model.
– Hi-res, sunlight readable touchscreen
– smart notification (emails, texts, alerts)
– extended battery life
– over 30,000 pre-loaded worldwide courses
– precise distance to greens
– stat tracking
– dedicated green view button
– customize distances
– scorekeeping and odometer
Let’s first cover the improvements over the S3 that is on offer here.
First, there’s the dedicated green view button. This pops up an image of the green on the watch and lets you drag the flag to a more appropriate location for more accurate yardages.
Next, Garmin has beefed up battery efficiency and you can now easily go almost a whole day (10 hours) on the course if you remain in GPS mode, with up to 6 weeks in watch mode.
Finally, the S4 offers improved stat tracking as well as smart notification, which enables the watch to receive emails, texts and other alerts from compatible smartphones. The latter feels like a bit of a novelty, but I’m sure some people will find it handy.
So, there are some key improvements to be had, and I’m particularly pleased about the extra battery life.
For the rest of the device, you get almost all the data you need on the golf course right out of the box. You get layup and dogleg distances, as well as exact distances to the front, middle and back of the greens.
The only thing missing out of the box are hazard distances. You can put these in by yourself as custom points, but having this readily available would have added more value to the device.
The score keeping and stats allow you to enter the number of shots and puts taken, as well as fairways hit. You can even indicate whether you missed the fairway to the left or right.
The course selection is mightily impressive, with the figure well on its way to 40,000 last time I checked.
The 4 buttons along the sides are marked with pictures, so you can quickly figure out what they’re for.
One of the most reported issues with this watch is that it is prone to losing track of what hole you’re on. Haven’t run into it myself, but some people have.
Users like: ease of use, add your own landmarks, green view, scoring and stat collection, accuracy, improved battery life
Users don’t like: no pre-mapped hazards, Garmin software issues, occasionally loses track of holes
Garmin has improved on the Approach S3 in almost every respect with the S4, and it is an excellent GPS golf watch. The price difference between the two (working on Amazon pricing) is almost negligible by now, so getting the S4 just makes sense.
Price Range: $180- $250Get Garmin Approach S4 Pricing on Amazon
Garmin Approach S6
Garmin’s most advanced GPS golf watch comes packed with features and is worth considering.
– hi-res sunlight readable color touchscreen
– swing metrics
– PinPointer for blind shot assistance
– more than 40,000 golf courses
– glove-friendly screen
– dedicated Green View and CourseView buttons
The Approach S6 is a pretty impressive golf watch. The overhead map view is useful, and once you’ve dialed in your typical driver distance you can get a good view of the area your ball is likely to land. A watch is a little small to really get the most out of this feature, but I like it nonetheless.
As with the S4, you get the dedicated Green View button to change the position of the pin on the green for a more accurate distance.
Despite all the features this is normal sized watch, measuring in at around 1 inch screen diameter and at just 1.6 oz it is a lightweight, comfortable unit.
Battery life is around 8 hours in GPS mode, which is a bit tight for two rounds of golf.
Another cool feature is the PinPointer, which indicates the direction and distance to the green when you are unsighted.
The swing metrics training is another good feature. With two modes (TempTraining and SwingStrength) that measure and analyze your swing, this can be a useful practice aid. Due to the beeping sounds it makes it may not be too popular on the golf course when you’re surrounded by other golfers.
As with the S4, you can also get notifications via a bluetooth connection to a compatible smartphone.
Add to this the S6’s ability for shot tracking, scoring and statistics and you have one excellent GPS golf watch on your hands. It is pricey, and you’ll need to consider whether it’s worth it at almost double the price of the Approach S4.
Unfortunately, you cannot view scorecard and statistics data on the watch, but only on a computer or on a smartphone via the Garmin Connect app.
Users like: light and slim, color display, overhead maps, green view, PinPointer, accuracy
Users don’t like: price, scorecard and statistics not viewable on watch, battery life
While the Garmin Approach S6 is an excellent GPS golf watch packed with a ton of useful (and a few unique) features, you have to carefully consider whether it’s worth the extra cost over the perfectly functional Approach S4 or Bushnell Neo Ion. Battery life is a concern as well.
Price Range: $350 – $400Get Garmin Approach S6 pricing on Amazon
Best Golf GPS Watch: Summary
So, what should you get? The Garmin Approach S2 is still a great, straightforward golf GPS watch. It doesn’t have touchscreen functionality though, but for some that will be an advantage. It’s not clear how far this model is from the end of its life cycle though.
The Bushnell Neo Ion for me is the best overall golf GPS watch if battery life and simplicity are your main concerns. It lacks scoring, but gives you hazard distances and all the other data you need for putting the ball where you need to. Simple, light and efficient, it makes a lot of sense and is the best selling GPS watch on Amazon.
The Garmin Approach S4 makes the most sense of the Garmin models, giving you touch screen functionality and all the other modern bells and whistles. It can’t match the battery life of the Bushnell and it lacks hazard distances, but it is a fine unit at under $200.
The Garmin Approach S6 is an excellent, fully featured full color touchscreen range finder. Unfortunately, it is almost twice as expensive as the S4 while not offering all that much more. It suffers from poor battery life as well.